While it may be quite possible for me to write an entire review based on fighter planes without mentioning Top Gun, I won't even bother. You see, there was a period in my life (right between wanting to be Sonny Crockett and a guitar god), in which I wanted to be Maverick; a cocky hot-shot young F-14 pilot. I wanted to romance Kelly McGillis (and Meg Ryan too), drive a Yamaha FZR or Kawasaki Ninja motorcycle and I wanted to have a RIO as cool as Goose. I could've done away with the beach volley-ball and the shower talks with Val Kilmer, but that's another story. Yes, thankfully, I can always blame it all on being young and immature, but over the course of one summer, I did watch Top Gun over 40 times (we only had a handful of VHS movies) and I still know every line by heart. When I first heard about Over G Fighters, a friend from Japan was playing it on Live. I messaged, enquiring about the game, and he replied "Top Gun with more planes". That managed to rekindle my love of planes and make me impatiently await the arrival of Taito and Ubisoft's North American release of Over G Fighters. And while the end-product is a fun distraction that will please true aviation aficionados everywhere, there simply isn't enough for us Top Gun wannabes out there to consider it the best of the best.
Over G Fighters places you in an alternate reality where chaos erupts on a global scale and an international peace corps known as Energy Air Force has been established to protect mankind. For anyone rolling their eyes, the story is really a non-factor in the game as all briefings, dialogs and quasi-cut-scenes are dry and nonsensical. You'll have a much better time if you keep telling yourself that you want to graduate from the Top Gun academy and every plane, base, ship and convoy belongs to Iceman and you want to take them out. You'll also be able to pick between five wingmen on most missions and while these seem to have their own personalities and specialties, there's never really a big difference in the lot as long as you assign orders to them properly. I generally picked the female wingman (wingperson). Wel she started prattling on about odd things that would repeat every time I retried a mission, I was forced to pick someone a little less talkative.
The game really starts to shine once you select a new game and begin perusing the menus. While slightly clinical in feel and appearance, a lot of work has gone into the menu scheme and the simple, but clever newspaper/magazine feel. A lot of motion and information is dispatched and while a few sub-menus could have been labeled differently, a neat little blurb pops up at the bottom of the screen to let you know what everything is and does. There are basically three main modes of play within Over G Fighters; the Scenario Mode (the story mode where planes and levels are unlocked), Challenge Mode (where you tailor each outing to meet your own needs and wishes) and Multiplayer Mode (where you can, obviously, compete online in various forms over Xbox Live).
Before beginning any great sortie, it might be wise to read through the instructional manual and carefully read all the additional information that the game provides during loading menus, initial missions and the pause screen tutorial. Even veterans of other flight games will find new things to learn and consider herein. For anyone who enjoys having a lot of technical jargon thrown at them (in an accurate fashion nonetheless), Over G Fighters delivers in spades. Regardless of what camera view you choose, there is always a plethora of information available on the screen in a way that instantly makes you feel like you a really in control of a sophisticated piece of equipment, but never being overwhelmed or obstructed by it. Before long you will gather the information you need regarding altitude, speed, headings, velocity, engine output, thrust, etc and if you so choose, you can simply disregard most of it and simply turn and burn. Over G Fighters truly rides the fence between a simulation and an arcade experience. With its difficulty levels, control schemes (although both should be experienced), language, aircraft controls (gear, rolls, landing, taxiing, gray-outs, red-outs, etc), and the amount of valid information that is used in each mission, Over G creates a good balance. Aviation nuts will appreciate the attention to detail while casual gamers can still get through each mission having had a modicum of fun.
Scenario mode is the token single player offering broken down into levels which feature various missions that must be accomplished to move on. The beauty here is that you can pick and choose which missions you'll do and by doing so, the next set of missions change accordingly. This also means that you cannot unlock every accomplishment or plane on the first play-through and you'll have to go through the game several times to experience all the missions. In each mission, a nauseating and easily skip-able briefing will explain the reasons behind your sortie (remember - Iceman these are all Iceman's friends out there). For the most part, the voice acting is wooden and stale and there are even numerous spelling errors in the subtitles themselves which add a certain campy levity to actually sitting through them. Next, you'll pick a plane for the mission from your unlocked fighters. Certain planes will generally be more useful than others and so, if you are not using a carrier for example, the F-14 will sometimes be indicated as "bad". Each plane is graded on certain parameters to help you choose easily. Next, you pick between your five wing people (who are each rated on G-resistance, visual range, target proficiency, evasion skills and mental fortitude), then you equip your plane with the weapons you like (again, the default weapons/fuel supply will always work for casual gamers, but perhaps more advanced flyers will want to customize their cache). You are then treated to a generally cheesy cut-scene introducing the area you'll be fighting in (although the carrier scenes are always fun to look at) where 80's hairband rock will play, only to be cheapened by a few strains of slap bass and synth keys here are there.
Controlling you plane is always a pleasure; the controls, although advanced for some, are spot-on and make even the hardest tasks easy (with practice). The right thumbstick will always control your camera (click to change camera views). Whether you are using a third person view (where the camera rotates around the plane) or a in-cockpit view (where the camera simulates a pilot's general field of view/rotation) it's always breathtaking to see the small details of the planes in action. Taking out targets (which is almost a staple of every mission) is actually a little too easy in the game since simply pointing in the general direction of a bogey will enable radar lock and the game will prompt you to "shoot". Consider the fact that you have to sometimes enable the right weapons for each target though, and you are sometimes grateful for the little contributions.
While the controls and plane graphics are sheer bliss, the environments, missile impacts (and ensuing debris scatter) and buildings are too clean/clinical to feel real. All the buildings in the game have perfect textures with sharp lines, all the plane explosions/impacts look the same, and all the terrain (even at extremely low altitudes) looks boring. The single greatest knock again Over G Fighters however is the complete lack of a sense of speed. I do realize that it's hard to simulate speed without any points of reference (in the sky), but go closer to the ground or when other planes are encountered, it's still hard to feel the need for speed that should be present. At the very least, when the afterburner is engaged (and the accompanying graphical animation is wonderful) there should be a noticeable difference in sense of speed. But alas, in any camera view, it's simply not there.
Luckily, one of the more fun aspects of the title (along with taxiing and landing on carriers and using the hook) is simply avoiding an attack. Regardless if the incoming missile is radar or infra-red guided, a simple push of the B-button will launch the appropriate counter-measure (chaff or flare respectively) and then it's simply a question of turning away from the missile's path. It's nerve-racking as hell the first few times it happens and oddly never gets old. And, watching a replay of these events is always fun.
Over G Fighters enables you to replay and watch every second (including cutscenes - although without modifiable camera angles) of each mission using a slew of different camera angles, background music (although most songs are annoying), replay speeds and information toggles. While some missions will never justify a re-watch, others scream for it and these are fun to save and watch over and over. It's also in this mode that you'll get a better sense of speed for the planes, a better appreciation of the missile physics and more moments of giddiness from a beautifully executed kill.
Glancing at the other modes, Challenge mode lets you choose between Arena Combat which is akin to a fighting game's survival mode where you'll try to take out as many enemies (with your wingmen/wingwomen) before successfully returning to base or being shot down. In this mode you also have to mind your fuel, but you can refuel as many times as you like and also make repairs and re-arm your weapons. The other Challenge mode is Strike, where you'll basically get to design a custom mission and see it through. Playing multiplayer, you'll have the initial choice of Ranked or Player matches and from there the choice of arena or versus modes. Arena plays a lot like the single player mode where this time you'll work as a team to destroy the other teams' bases. The versus mode is more like an eight person dogfight. In either case, there was hardly any lag at all online, but there were also very few people playing. The matches I was able to join seemed to go on for far too long (I learned to create matches with smaller playtimes quickly) but for the most part were quite enjoyable. It would have been nice to have a co-op mode where two players (or more) could have gone through the single player missions as a team.
Graphically, as previously stated, Over G Fighters looks really good where it counts; the planes. Everything else (except for carriers and any personnel directing traffic) is a little disappointing and somewhat generic. The other unfortunate thing is that there are very cool loading screens within the game that have tons of info on the planes themselves, but the font is barely readable even on a large-screen high-def TV. In the audio department, the voice acting is bland and wooden and the music suffers from Taito-isms; as with all Super Bust-A-Move titles, there are just too many slap bass and synth fills to make any song enjoyable. And this is the case here where some songs try really hard to create a Top Gun-ish feel but are marred by annoying chord progressions or unneeded instruments. The game is supposed to sound "cool", not "fun". Thankfully, the planes, missiles and other sound effects are really good and the audio mix is expertly handled to make even discerning audiophiles giddy with fighter plane goodness.
As it is, Over G Fighters comes away feeling like a mixed bag, depending on your love of planes and the genre in general. For casual gamers, the repetitive missions, complex gameplay mechanics and steep learning curve may leave many feeling bitter about a purchase. If you were looking to Over G Fighters to replace Crimson Skies, this isn't it. For fans of Ace Combat and aviation in general however, the various aircraft (all perfectly rendered with their own special functions; hooks, stealth mode, night visions, etc) will "almost" justify the full asking price even though the game could have had so many more multiplayer (including split-screen) modes. For me, this didn't completely fill my need for speed, but it did make me feel nostalgic for that summer when all I could dream about was seeing a Mig28 pull a 4G negative dive, and yes, I was inverted at the time. On the X360, this is clearly the best flight game at the moment, but in a niche genre with a lot of competition, I'm sure we'll either see a more fleshed-out sequel in due time or another contender for the Top Gun trophy.